Month: April 2014

What Lies Beneath – Ghost Town Under Dale Hollow Lake

Ever heard of an underwater ghost town?  When the government was taking up land for civil projects like lakes and dams, sometimes whole towns got in the way.  One such example is the quaint town of Willow Grove in Tennessee.

Willow Grove was founded by five families from the Colony of New York who bought the land off Chief Nettlecarrier, one of the last Cherokee Chiefs in the area, around 1785.  Willow Grove has been cited as the first permanent white settlement in the Upper Cumberland due to their positive relations with the Cherokee.

The town grew until the Wolf River dam and Dale Hollow Lake were proposed.  All of the graves had to be dug up and moved to the St. John’s cemetery outside of the flood zone.   On July 18, 1942 the people of Willow Grove stood together in one last cathartic moment, to mourn the loss of their town.

There are several ghosts who frequent the now drowned town, but none so common as the Old Lady of the Lake.  There are multiple accounts of a whirling, rising white mist with unnatural movement coming off the lake, many of which believe is the ghost of one of the settler’s wives who is searching for her wedding ring.

You can still explore the school house of Willow Grove if you are a certified SCUBA diver – if you dare.


What do you think of when you hear the word, “foxfire?”  Some confuse it for the web browser Firefox, others of the book series on Appalachian traditions and life, and others just roll their eyes assuming it’s some sort of science fiction thing.  Yet, you will be hard pressed to find people, especially city people, who can tell you the answer to, “what is foxfire?”


Foxfire, also known as “fairy fire,” or “ghost light” is a biolumnescent fungus that exists in decaying wood, and is present in parts all over the world.  It often ‘activates’ when the wood has been stepped on or agitated, causing it to break open, but there have been accounts of people who have walked up on entire trees glowing, undisturbed.

If you are taking a walk through the woods at night, always TURN OFF YOUR FLASHLIGHT.  Breathe as your eyes adjust, and then make sure to look for the faint blue-green glow of foxfire as you step through brush and rotting trees.

I personally have never seen foxfire West of Alexandria, TN at the start of the Cumberland Plateau, but I would be willing to bet that you could find it at one of the Warner Parks if the light pollution is not too strong now.

Where have you spotted foxfire?



The Minister’s Treehouse

California is home to the Winchester Mystery House. In a shocking example of high-brow mental illness, Sara Winchester (Winchester Guns); obsessed with “evil” spirits that were chasing her, believed that as long as she continued construction on her home that the “evil” could never get her. The results were a 160 room home with doors to nowhere, a staircase that goes down seven steps then up eleven, a seance room, secret passageways, and her eventual (surprisingly natural) death.

But in the Tennessee, land of porches, there is an impressive example of the same type of mania, but with far less money. And where money is weak, religion is strong; leading Minister Horace Burgess to construct what is now known as the Minister’s Tree House after God told him to. Yes, the Lord himself spoke to Minister Burgess and told him that as long as he kept building the structure, that he would never run out of materials.  God kept his promise, and the Minster carried on until 2012 when The State Fire Marshal ordered that building operations halt and the Minister was forced to abandon his life’s work.  Despite petitions from people in the town, the tree house sadly remains ‘closed’ still today.

Under the Divine Duty of Minister Burgess, the tree house reached 97 feet tall, with 80 rooms, all supported by large white oak trees. Between Cookeville and Knoxville, off of I-40 East, on Beehive Lane you can still bear witness to the spectacle; just don’t get caught.

                Photo By Chuck Sutherland

Nun Bun


You’ve all heard the stories about Jesus who likes to masquerade on a toe, potato chip, dog’s ass, banana peel, and as chesus christ on a pizza; but it is a rare thing indeed for Mother Teresa to appear.  Yet, in the 1990’s at Bongo Java in Nashville, Tennessee; she allegedly did just that.  And, being the considerate soul that she was, she took form as the ultimate comfort food – a cinnamon bun.

Dubbed the “nun bun,” people came from miles around to witness the miracle appearance.  It was stolen in a break-in in 2005 and never recovered.  Today there is still a standing $5,000 reward for a no questions asked return.  There have been rumblings that the old broad made it all the way over to Seattle but no one knows for sure.

Have YOU seen the nun bun?


Carney Street

During the Great Irish Potato Famine, an estimated 10,000 Irish Travelers came to the United States between the period of 1845-1860.  They spread across the country eventually ending up in the mule trade.  Due to the high demand of mule power for agriculture in the Southeast, the Travelers settled pockets of the area.

Irish Travelers are made up from four groups in the U.S. based on where they settled; the Georgia Travelers, Texas Travelers, Ohio Travelers, and Mississippi Travelers.  According to oral tradition, the Georgia band are what makes up parts of Mississippi and Texas groups.  They all originally settled in Nashville and then moved to Atlanta sometime around the Civil War where all the groups splintered off.

1930’s depression era Nashville played host again to the Travelers who would bring a touring carnival through town.  The carnival was less than reputable, but each year would set up in the lot on 2nd Avenue, near the Fairgrounds.  Nothing remains from this time, except for the family they buried locally, and a nod to the past on the aptly named Carney Street (between 4th and 2nd Aves).


 St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Nashville  has always had a connection to these Irish Travelers, and performs weddings and funerals for them still today.  If you look, many of the graves have Georgia Traveler family names like Cooper, Cooley, Harrison, Pierce, Stanley, Young and Jeffery.  





Spring is Here!

This winter was a tough one for everyone in North America.  In the year of the Polar Vortex, many of my plants didn’t make it through the deep freezes, and I spent all weekend replacing them with heirloom squash and zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and flowers.  In a farewell to the coldest winter in my lifetime, I wanted to share a picture I stumbled across of the Winter of 1940 in Nashville.  Yes, it may have gotten cold this winter, but in January of 1940, the Cumberland River froze over so thick that people could walk over it.  So adieu winter, and here’s to short shorts and tall drinks; bring on summer!


The Legend of Sugar Flat Road

When I was a child, my family moved from Houston, Texas to a farm just east of Lebanon, TN.  It was culture shock in reverse; as big city gal whose family wore black clothing, and our favorite foods were unpronounceable to the new neighbors (ke-suh-dee-ya we’d say, only to be corrected that that in fact, it was ke-suh-dil-luh), I was always kind of an outcast.  It allowed me to sit back and watch things though, and I was fascinated by one of my new classmates; Sterling Buster.

In my memory, Sterling Buster was the size of a pro wrestler at the age of six.  His sheer height could block the sun, and I would watch him in reverence.  At the time, Lebanon had a quiet, high-brow antiques circuit, and the very finest of them was at Cuz’s Antiques on the Lebanon Square.  When I found out that Sterling’s family owned Cuz’s, I couldn’t have been more pleased.  Cuz’s was the kind of place where you would walk in and see a stuffed tiger lunging toward a mounted elephant head, with deep red velvet Victorian sofas and Victrolas as the audience.  It had the most distinct smell of warm dust, and when the afternoon sun would shine through the enormous storefront windows, you could see all the tiny particles dancing through the air.

My mom collected old compacts so each week after church we made the antiques rounds on the square.  My life changed on one Sunday in 1996 when I first saw The Head at Cuz’s, and heard about the Legend of Sugar Flat Road.



According to Legend, in 1989 two guys were out driving on Sugar Flat Road off Trousdale Ferry, a place that is to this day dominated by farms and nothingness, when they hit something.  To their surprise, they had run over what appeared to be a yeti.  They had the head taxidermied and Cuz’s ended up with it a few years after.  It was on display in the format that you see above with the handwritten sign saying, “Is this an alien,” that invites you to draw your own conclusion on what the fur covered head could be.

Sadly, Cuz’s closed it’s doors last year, but the mysterious Legend of Sugar Flat Road lives on.  The Head was auctioned and moved to Chattanooga, where it was displayed in a small place called the Curiosity Shoppe until last year.  It’s not clear where the head is now, but it has been replaced by a hologram at the Curiosity Shoppe!